Interview with Stanislav Solovkin

We sat down for an interview with Stanislav Solovkin, CEO and executive producer of Soar Productions, a production company that provides exclusive and boutique TV and cinema production services on the Territory of ex-USSR and some other exotic locations.
Korean cinematic market size was valued at over 1.6 trillion won in 2014, an increase of over 20 percent previous year. As growth of Korean cinematic market outpaces that of US, Stanislav Solovkin has now begun to turn his attention beyond US to a broader area of the Asian map.
How did you start?

When I started that was a really confusing time in Russia. You could start with no educational background whatsoever. And I did, when I was 17 years old and I haven’t even… Yeah, I was a first year university student and had no experience, no profession, no diploma, no nothing. The only advantage I had back then, except for my talent, of course, was the English language. I partook in an international exchange program, so I had spent a lot of time in the US where I did speak English a lot. And that was quite rare at those times. I wasn’t even of the full legal age. And I started working at Channel One Russia, it was called “Ostankino” back then. And it was a morning show, the concept of which was news for teenagers. After that I switched for a newspaper… In 2004 I was already a full grown independent producer having my own company. I remember myself sitting in a plane, trying to figure out how many hours of TV content I have produced and that is definitely more, than 1000.


What is the concept of your business?

The concept of the business that I am starting now is very simple. There’s a territory, which used to be called the USSR. Now it consists of 15 separate independent countries. Some of them are known to the world better than the others, and some even entered the EU. Others unfairly stand aside from the, let’s say, main trade-routes of television and cinema industry. Let’s call it «the television and cinema Silk Road».
Back in ancient times, the countries which were situated along the Silk Road flourished. The ones that stood aside from this road flourished much later and developed much slower. This is the way history works. Now, unfortunately, the great number of the former USSR countries ended up aside from this «television and cinema silk road». They turned out to be unfairly deprived of television and cinema producers’ attention.
Actually, the whole concept of my business is to create a professional bridge that would connect those who is seeking for new and exclusive shooting locations with the people who can provide it.
The concept of my business is to show television and cinema producers that there are incredibly beautiful and naturally, architecturally and historically diverse territories, which have never been used for television purposes.
It should be noted that such territories «unexposed» to the television and cinema industry, become more and more rare on the Earth.
And I’m sure, that television and cinema producers are looking for such places on our planet, where they could be if not the first ones, than at least among the first to produce.
The audience recognizes at once that a movie was shot in a particular country, same with TV shows. «And that waterfall we have already seen in three movies in a row»…
The audience sees and memorizes many things, especially when it comes to colorful images, shooting sceneries, specific places. I know for sure that no television or cinema producer has ever set foot in the countries I want to suggest as shooting locations: Kirgizia, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Armenia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, etc..

May be except for the «Borat» movie but it is a very doubtful success.
The concept of my business is also in me having huge international production experience as I am both a direct producer and a sort of a translator/interpreter. Almost 100% of all the disagreements that emerge between professionals from different countries are connected with mere miscommunication occasions, with the fact, that people cannot understand each other. Not necessarily the exact words, but their meaning. I translate meanings.


So actually if Chinese company wants to shoot in CIS it can address you?

Yes. All you need to do is bring the idea you want to fulfill. Russia is the motherland of cinema. It was invented here. We can even come up with an idea for you right here. All you should do is just contact the company, saying «this is what I want to shoot, this is what I have and that’s what I need» and you will have it whatever it is.


Often the big projects require huge and expensive equipment, and it is not sensible to bring it from abroad. How do you plan to solve this in the given countries?

It is true. And it is also true that not all the countries I work in can provide the same equipment as the USA, Europe or Russia. However, Ukraine and Russia possess perfectly adequate equipment, which is absolutely possible to rent, given the current economic situation and the fact that the customs is very simple in these countries if you know the rules, prices are much lower, and professionals are very, very good.

Does your company actually hold…

We provide services. We provide full-scale facilitating services.


What is the motto of you and your company?

Fortunately, the motto that works for me perfectly, was coined before me by an amazing television and cinema producer, an outstanding person, a distinguished television and cinema cameraman, a talented director and one of the two creators of the «Amazing Race» show – my major partner Bertram van Munster, who I am very proud and flattered to consider as my friend. He once said:. «The world is smaller, than you think, and the people in it are more beautiful, than you think». By the way, this phrase is on the «Starbuck’s» cups.


Where do your clients live? In other words, what clients are you targeting at, which countries.

Of course, we are targeting at the USA market, which is growing sustainably and consistently. The advertisement expenditures grew there by $10 bln. during the past five years, which is a good sign. Europe and UK are also very stable and highly reliable in terms of business.
At the same time we are targeting at literally blasting Asian markets where growth rates are shocking. Just imagine, 14 years ago there was only ONE TV channel in India. Today there are over 500… These Indian professionals are outstanding. Do you know how many feature films they produced last year? Over 1600! That is almost two times more, than in the USA! Not to mention Russia, the motherland of cinematography, that barely reached the point of 140 features during the same period of time.
China has increased the number of features per year FOUR times in five years, producing over 800 movies last year.
Indonesia shows an incredible average growth of TV and cinema market – 17% during last several years, leaving the Philippines not far behind.
The average growth of this market in Asia is 12.47% a year. I’m sure the TV and cinema professionals desperately need new locations for creating new masterpieces.


So can you describe yourself as a TV rather than a cinema producer?

The principals of the job, I am doing, are almost the same for cinema and television. As an executive producer I do both. But it just happened so that most of my experience is in the television industry. This includes working for major networks of the world: Channel One Russia, Rossiya One, NTV, TNT, and many other Russian minors. International channels are: CBS, BBC, Discovery, Channel 7 Australia, Travel Channel, Channel 9 Israel… There are also some projects, of course, where the work is in progress, and I am still not allowed to tell you.


What is your international experience?

It is very pleasant to praise myself… But seriously, I don’t think you can find more, than a couple of hundred people in the world with the same international television and cinema experience as mine. I have been to 66 countries and almost all of these trips had something to do with filming.
I was born in Tashkent, Uzbekistan where I spent most of my childhood. I know these beautiful in many senses people, know how to work with them, how to get on the right side of them.
My first professional international television experience was the creation of the «Survivor» show for the Russian television, which I was one of the executive producers of since 2001. We made 6 seasons for the «Channel One».
Besides, for 6 years straight I have been a constant Russian facilitating producer of the «Amazing Race» show, created by Bertram van Munster. When they come to Russia, I organize all the shootings from A to Z. And you can say, that this might be the biggest television project in the field. It won 15 Emmys, which is the absolute record in the world of television. China, by the way, has its franchise, like many other countries around the world.

Together we made 11 shows in the territory of Russia and Azerbaijan.

A big number of my projects are connected with the BBC, Discovery channels and the Travel Channel. I was one of those who kickstarted «Channel 9» in Israel. I have a big number of ongoing projects in Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, but due to obvious reasons I cannot unveil the details.


And what is so special about the TV?

It’s a very good question. To my taste, television, unlike cinema, gives you this adrenaline buzz. It’s a lot like drug addiction. You have to do thousands of things in the shortest time and the stakes are always high. Mistakes are not an option here because it’s not just yours or some other people’s money at stake, but rather your reputation. And I like it. The other thing I like about it is travelling. I do travel a lot. Actually, the first major show I was involved in as one of the executive producers was a Russian version of the “Survivor” US franchise …
It was in 2001. At that time it was the most ambitious, the most expensive and, as it turned out, the most popular show ever on the Russian television. We were shooting in Panama, and I think that is when I got really addicted to television. That’s the reason I’m so passionate about it.
At that time it was also the most challenging and difficult show to shoot. We had to bring to Panama almost 150 crew members from Russia and it was just the beginning. We were working 20 hours a day for a couple of months with no breaks… That gives you that addiction.


What determines the success of the show? What could be the factors? I mean, reality show is even more complicated, because like perform or television drama can be…

You have to plan things thoroughly at all times. Planning is the key to successful production; otherwise the product itself is going to be disastrous.
I do both cinema and television, and still prefer television as it is much less predictable, brings more surprises. You deal with real people, real life, etc. On the other hand, it always has much lower budgets in comparison to cinema.
And with these lower budgets you are to create a commercially successful product, which is competitive in terms of the price, creative quality, and its public outcome. It’s very hard to explain this feeling, so I’m going to tell you a story.
I had my first television experience in 1994. In two days it will be precisely my 20-year career anniversary. It was just a short 10 minute long weekly TV-show. And then I switched to a newspaper, as I’ve mentioned before. And so my boss, a very big-shot in Russia, who is still my friend, he told me: «You will not be able to live without television anymore.» And he was right. In less than a year I returned to TV-production.


So what is your secret?

I have a talent… (laugh) It is a perfect capital – as this is something that cannot be taken away from me and I don’t even know where it came from. My thing is to cope with people quickly and easily. I can tell you a story about one of the Central Asian countries I’m not allowed to tell which one exactly. I arrived there once with an intention to have some very important meetings within a very short period of time. I had a partner living in that country for quite some time. So I was really tired, sitting at the hotel bar I had 3 more meetings ahead of me, all in different locations. And my partner says: “Why don’t you invite them over instead of rushing to all these places?” I make a couple of phone calls and the people (including big shots like ministers) I am to meet do come to see me in that very bar. Frankly, I have no idea how I do it. It might be my charisma, which I believe is possible. But again, it’s not something, you can learn. It is how it is. And my secret is that people love me (laughs). I’m charming and this is something you either have, or you don’t. And it would be a shame if I weren’t be using it. Otherwise, I know technology, television industry processes, etc… Because every single big production is a jigsaw puzzle that consists of smaller parts, which are to be assembled back together at some point. And what I believe is my best feature is the ability to get the best crew possible. I make my employees work 36 hours a day instead of 24, I scream at them, and I never get satisfied. And yet they love me. Sometimes I know some tricks, but generally it is me being charming. That’s my major tool.


So tell me the one biggest challenge you had?

I was a head of production, working with the “Amazing Race” show, in which everything is true. If they say «today is the day» than it is the day when we shoot. There was a shooting of two episodes here in Moscow, Russia, three or four years ago. Half a year of preparation prior to the shooting needed as it’s a real-time challenge in lots of different locations, so it is extremely hard if possible at all to get the necessary permits. And the locations are: the Central Library, where nobody has ever shot a reality show before us, the Kremlin, Moscow metro system, The Bolshoi Theater Square… It took me a half a year to get permitted for this particular day. What happened during the filming was that half of the teams arrived on time, but the other half got stuck in Germany due to the weather conditions, waiting for their next connecting flight, which was in 12 hours. I had to make this devil-job extending all the permits for all the locations for another 24 hours within the two hours I had. So be it. When we were done with the show I switched off my cell-phone and said: “No more calls for the next week”. It was challenging. We have this saying: what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. That is exactly what happens in our profession.


So you happened doing the production in different countries? What do you feel about the country differences… When you do the production in different countries, how do adjust to culture differences?

It’s another piece of art. Because this is not something you can learn from books, it’s all about your perception of the situation. You’ve got to come there and that, I believe, is a very big deal… You are come to a new country and sightseeing is not all you do. You must also “breathe the same air” with local people. You have to notice how accurate they are in terms of timing, money and everything else. Once you get this feeling, you understand how to deal with each category of people. I can guarantee that the best way to deal with, for example, common workers is to be friends with them. Because if they tell you in the middle of production: “we don’t work with you anymore”, you are in a big trouble because they work hard and do a lot.
All in all, it’s very important to be highly respectful towards people, ask two or three times, before you touch anything. Sometimes you can afford to look stupid or ignorant – it’s fine. The worst thing you can do is to be disrespectful. That ruins everything.


Why do you think the countries you are inviting the international producers to should be interested or are interested in co-operating with World media and cinema community?

It is a very good question, and I believe the answer is not bad either. All the countries and local communities are very interested in tourism growth. Some people might say: “the tourism motivation is the motivation you use when you have no better ones”. But that is not true. There are figures showing how TV and cinema impact the tourism industry. The World Tourism Organization believes that “The Amazing Race” encouraged over 110 million people who have NEVER traveled before to go to other parts of the world. A year after the release of The Brave Heart the number of visitors to Wallace Monument increased by 300%, The Crown Hotel in Amersham, England is fully booked for the next three years because it was mentioned in the “Four Weddings and One Funeral”, Rosslyn Chapel featured in the “Da Vinci Code” now has almost 140 000 visitors a year versus 9500 before the movie was released. More figures? Because of the “Lord of the Rings” was filmed in New Zealand, where tourists now spend $6 billion a year, versus $3 billion a year before the release.
Still don’t trust me? Think of the Holy Bible then, the only “media” for centuries (and please do not take that for blasphemy – those times the were no TV, no radio, no newspapers)… Billions and billions of pilgrims made their way to Jerusalem, where as they believed and believe now God has started His Act of Creation, Abraham brought his son Isaac, Jacob dreamed of Angels and Jesus was betrayed and crucified. Where would be Jerusalem now, without the Holy Bible? I believe it might not even exist today.


Have you ever worked with the Chinese?

I did, actually. Not much, though. I was in Malaysia and there was a man there who owned a small enterprise. His specialty was taming wild animals like elephants, tigers, monkeys, apes, etc. It was a great experience. He was one of the best professionals I’ve ever worked with. And of course these CBS and WRP crews, we are talking about, producing company for the Amazing Race (especially the Australian Amazing Race crew) are very diverse. There are lots of Chinese people living in Hong-Kong, Singapore, Taiwan in those crews. All the experience I had was very positive. I have nothing to complain about.


What could be the damages or obstacles when Russian producer is working with a Chinese?

You might find my answer boring but I believe the only obstacle would be the language barrier. I can tell you one thing: I’ve been filming a lot in Siberian part of Russia. And if I do an international production I always hire students to be interpreters. Each production requires about 50-70 PAs, interpreters. And in Siberia they study English, but their second foreign language is Chinese. I also know, that lots of people from the continental part of China study Russian because of our more or less mutual background. But the language barrier is still a problem and it always will be. But that’s the only obstacle I can think of.


For Chinese producers, if they want to work in Russia, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia or Georgia – what is the best way to get local knowledge, where to shoot, the best scenery, etc?

Honestly, there are two ways, each has its pros and cons. The first way is a very obvious one, it’s the Internet, professional networks. Key words like «shooting Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Georgia, Armenia….» will help a lot.
The second way is to ask someone. Even those inhabiting China television world as it’s still a small village where everybody knows everyone, or everybody knows somebody, who knows just the guy. There’s a rule of five handshakes…
It never hurts to check with a friend, but you always have to use both ways to find a partner, for if your friend suggests you a person, you don’t have much choice, not to mention that it’s always about bargaining, pricing, etc. That’s how I do this. But I have a lot of friends, who work with somebody, so it’s not a big deal. Specifically in Central Asian and Caucasus parts of the world, where the market is not that huge and there are not so many producers.


What are the most promising countries in region to shoot? I can think of just Kazakhstan.

I cannot point out just one country. I would name four. Those are Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Georgia and Armenia. My two priorities now are Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. My understanding is that these are the most promising. They are ones of the few democracies in the region with all my respect to the others. These two are very small countries with the population of several million people each living in a comparatively small territory. But you can find all types of scenery in these territories, from deserts to the highest mountain peaks, green valleys, lakes, walnut forests, etc. And the second reason I particularly distinguish these two is that they are safe and comparatively cheap countries with high level of unemployment. And the thing is that if you are, let’s say, a Chinese, American or a European producer to film in such a country you don’t need to find professional directors or directors of photography or art directors there, you just bring them with you. It’s your production and you don’t have to work with people you can find, you work with the people you can trust. And I’ve never been asked to hire a director or director of photography. But the 90% of success in production lays in the work of PAs, managers, interpreters, drivers… It is also in finding proper locations.


What is the level of interest of the authorities of the given countries in the coming of the foreign shooting crews?

They are very interested. I believe that there is great potential for international tourism in each of the discussed countries.
And there is no tool more effective for promoting tourism than television and cinema.


Is there any particular content that you are going manufacture in these countries or which formats suit them more?

Honestly, I do not really care about the formats. The main thing is that the shootings a) are in accordance with the current legislation and b) do not undermine the reputation of either the countries where it is being conducted, or my company.


What other countries can you suggest?

I am currently negotiating several issues concerning that and soon will have a more detailed answer about the non-ex-USSR countries that, due to different reasons, are much less visited than they deserve. I can name a few, though: Dominican Republic, Haiti, Cambodia and Madagascar. The goal is to expand the presence of my company from the ex-USSR territories to the countries where people just do not go without me because of the unique communication skill I possess.


And why people cannot go there without you?

As I have already mentioned, I translate meanings. For instance, there’s an X company that wants to shoot in a Y country that is interested in the international tourism and requires some promotion in foreign media. That makes the mutual benefits between X and Y quite obvious. But they cannot come to an agreement. The reason is these X and Y do not always understand each other. Not that they do not understand the words, they do not understand the meanings and subtexts. And translation of those is one of the main components of my job.
When people do not understand each other well enough, they treat each other with suspicion, even though the mutual benefits are obvious. These parties always need a certain Z party, an intermediary, which is trusted by the both sides.

There are several reasons for professionals to not come and shoot on their own.
For the most of my current and potential partners these countries «sound» rather scary. «Yeah, may be, it is very interesting, but also very unsafe, wild and there is no infrastructure there, people are trying to rob you every now and then, ask for a bribe and leave you empty-handed»…
The second reason is that, unfortunately, many people still have the mythical image of all these countries being parts of Russia, but “we have been to Russia before, and these are just Russia’s derivatives, so why bother”. But this is a completely wrong notion. First of all, these are independent countries and each of them is visually unique. Each differs greatly from Russia, has its own traditions, culture, aesthetic images, nature and language.
The third reason. In most of these countries, except for, may be, Ukraine and Kazakhstan, the television and cinema industries are historically underdeveloped. Of course, they have their own TV companies and channels, but, unfortunately, those do not provide the necessary level of preparation yet.
These are the countries that have become independent just recently. They are very beautiful and diverse. They are also quite cheap in terms of production. And they have no money to waste for promoting their countries by commercial videos. These do not work to my opinion, by the way.
Also, these countries are too independent and proud to “offer” themselves on the international market.
There is one more thing. They see many not only western partners, but just foreigners as potential enemies, spies, foes, whom they expect to bring TV cameras and just pour a huge amount of negativity which these splendid states are already sick of straight onto the international television arena. The perfect example is, of course, the «Borat» movie, that was shot about Kazakhstan and its people. The movie itself was humiliating and insulting for the people of Kazakhstan. But the state government was smart enough to permit the screening with the explanation, that «that is not Kazakhstan being reflected in this movie and anything shown in it has nothing to do with Kazakhstan», though the first reaction was indeed to ban the movie. But overall alertness and concerns still do exist.
So my company and my business will perform partly as a bridge. On the one hand, I have a certain name in foreign companies and a good reputation as a professional, a person, a businessman. I will repeat myself: I continue working with such companies as CBS, BBC, Discovery, Travel Channel, Channel 9 Israel, Channel Seven Australia, etc. The television industry is a small village where everyone is acquainted with one another. If somebody still doesn’t know such name as Stanislav Solovkin, he or she 100% sure has a friend who does.
Imagine there was a social network with 10 to 20 thousand subscribers instead of a billion. Everybody would know everyone. That is how the television industry works. That is how cinema works. Meaning, for them I would be not just a guy who came out of nowhere, but a person with years and years of experience of working with the big fish from the television and cinema market.
On the other hand, I speak the same language with the authorities that issue shooting permissions, and whose protection and support we should be seeking for successful production. We used to live in the same country and in spite of our internal disagreements we still remain connected by means of the Russian language. I know the habits and traditions – I was born in central Asia, I traveled to all these countries. I have got relatives in Georgia, Armenia, Kirghizia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan… My grandmother was from Ukraine, and the roots of my other grandparents are in Belarus and Moldavia. This is something one can neither learn, nor be deprived of. I speak the same language, as those people do. We share the same cultural codes. I surely can persuade them, that this or that shooting crew came in peace and it just wants to make sure to show the beauty of a certain region to the outer world. The real truth, not just some ugly elements ripped off a context.
And in spite of the fact that legally I am also a foreigner for them we still once used to live in one big country. They are much less suspicious towards me, which is crucial for this type of business.
Besides, as an intermediary I am not only trusted by the both sides. I am also equally dependent on them. I have things to lose. On the external market it is the reputation I have, on the internal – it is the possibility to come back to a country with new partners and work again.


Do you need the permits to shoot in there?

The systems differ in each country, however you definitely need support from local big-shots. The good thing about the countries I have mentioned is their governments are perfectly well-motivated to attract foreign tourists, which makes them very flexible, television- and cinema-friendly, cooperative and absolutely transparent in their actions. At least in terms of television and cinema. I’ve been working in this region for many years now. I’ve never been asked for a bribe. The system is simple: you come to a certain location and say “Can we please have this, this and this”, you have a local partner who provides the services, you also have a location agreement with each of the venues and it doesn’t cost you a lot. Once again: ask before you touch. Get the permit before you film. Even if you are told no permits needed.
I know many people who represent themselves as professionals but not correspond with this status. They jump, run, scream, they want this or that, they touch things and create activity that gives television poor general reputation worldwide.
So you always have to keep your word, tell truth, even if it’s an unpleasant truth, never lie and never touch anything that doesn’t belong to you before you ask. And that is why people normally want me to come back and shoot in their venues, when normally they wouldn’t like hearing the very word “television” ever in their lives after the first experience they had.


What myths, do you think, scare away the big and medium television and cinema professionals from going to the discussed region?

First of all, there is a belief that these countries are corrupted. I can address that: I have been to 66 countries from the USA to Madagascar and can tell you that I do not know a single country without corruption taking place there. Sometimes the volume, costs, level of corruption and the absence of money relations inside its system gets mistakenly perceived as an absence of corruption, which is wrong. In some countries you give a bribe to get a good seat in a movie-theatre, and in some you give a much bigger bribe to get a seat in the government. In the countries where you can buy a seat in the government corruption is not so obvious. That’s because there are fewer people who want to get a seat in the government, than those who want to get a seat in a theatre. That is why high margin of entering the corruption schemes sometimes deemed as an absence of corruption. But this is not quite so. Corruption exists everywhere and the only way to fight it is to motivate people, that make decisions, not with material values, but with the fact, that by making a decision you would like them to make they not only help you or themselves, but mainly the state and its descendants. Indeed, these countries are infected by corruption but so are the rest 219 countries on the planet.
The second myth: these countries are more dangerous than the others. This is simply not true. There are completely different ways of assessing crime rates, level of safety and terrorist threat level. But none of the abovementioned countries are included in the top-20 most dangerous countries in the world list. Georgia, for instance, is one of the safest country in Europe. Maybe even a safer one than Switzerland. And all these countries are definitely safer that LA, London, New York or Moscow.
Many countries achieve such safety levels by strong, even totalitarian regimes, which is irrelevant. The important thing is that they are truly safe. And what is also important is the fact that these countries have a centuries-old tradition of hospitality, so no one will touch you, at least due to you being a guest. Pickpocketing and minor theft, however, happen everywhere, regardless the quantity of your security guards. I have a perfect example: so here I am surrounded by an army of security guards in the governor residence of one of the provinces in one Latin-American country, my cell-phone was stolen right from the table. While in Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan, Georgia etc nothing like that ever happened to me. Neither in bog-shots’ residences, nor on the streets. It does not mean, things like that never happen there, it only means they take place not more often, than in any other country of the world.


So are Russia and CIS countries popular internationally?

I’d say ex-USSR, not CIS, because Georgia, for instance, is not a CIS country, but an ex-USSR state. It’s also an amazing country and I’m shooting there with some Indian cinema in March. The thing is that, Russia has never been a cheap country for shooting until now. Ruble is low, but the prices are getting higher. My prediction, though, it’s going to be like 25% lower.

Do you plan to attract the Russian production companies to these countries?

Without any doubt, I do. I think these countries are «terra incognita» even for the Russian industry.


Are the times when you feel… Because I know some producers, they have made a lot of shows and at some point they run out of inspiration, because they have done too much.

Well, sometimes I get really tired. I want to switch off all the phones and go somewhere, where there’s nothing but ocean and a sandy beach and I do it from time to time. But only for a couple of days. I told you it’s an addiction. In two days I’m starting to feel very nervous. I never have a vacation. What would I do there? Die of boredom? Lay on the beach? Two hours are quite enough for me. If I don’t fly at least once in a fortnight I feel a little bit sick. I need to move. I just left the plane. Within the previous week I flew over 10 000 miles. And I want to disclose a little secret. I’m going to represent a brand-new country on a market – Haiti. It’s the country, everybody wants to shot at, but are scared to. While I have some very good connections there. 90% of all the people in the world think it’s in Africa and not North America.


I think they have that singer from Haiti.

Yes, they have to grand singers and voodoo. But Haiti has much more to offer. You know, they got strongly affected by the 2010 earthquake, but it’s a great country.

Not really. It doesn’t need any initial capital. You don’t need the investment. I do have an official office, but my principle is «my office is where I physically am». And today my office is here, yesterday it was in NY. The good thing about the television production is that the only tools you should have is your brain, your connections, and your language skills. And the brain is also a combination of an initial education, parental attention, a number of books you read, education… It’s something, which had already been invested. You don’t need to buy expensive cameras or useless trinkets, or rent an expensive office in the center of the most expensive city in the world, which Moscow used to be, though it’s not any more. You don’t need all this. All you need is your brain.


Speaking of connections, you need to know a lot of people and also be a good judge. For example, you are in foreign country and you search the Internet for a local partner and how do you assess whether the local partner is good?

It’s very simple. If your potential partner pretends to be a professional, you will definitely find references on the web. We don’t live in vacuum anymore. You can always find him or her on IMDB or just google the person. There are also some tricky ways. For example, you pretend to be my, let’s say, perspective partner in the US and I write you: «Dear, Brian, can you please organize a shooting on the Potomac river, NYC?» And you say “yes”. That is how I know you are not a professional, because the Potomac River is not even in NYC. As simple as that. That is not a real example, just a pattern. Unfortunately you have to check these people and sometimes I even need to check my potential clients when they just find me on the web, because you never know. And that’s a huge responsibility.
I don’t lose anything as there’re systems which guarantee protection against financial risks. But what is very important for me is that my client doesn’t ruin my reputation by shooting something improper or illegal. I’d better say no to this or that Hollywood thing with a multimillion budget. Thing like Borat, for instance. Have you heard of it? I wouldn’t do this. No matter how much money I could possibly get from this project, because that would ruin all that I’ve been building for years. And that’s the major risk I have as a service supplier to people I barely know. I don’t say I do full-scale due diligence. But there should be an understanding that the risks are equal. A wrong step could ruin my job for the next fifteen years. I’m very careful and precautious about it.


You also mentioned some productions, that are just not as professional as people think of themselves, what other things apart from the commercial success you can look at and see, whether this is a professional production or not?

To my taste, it’s the punctuality, the accuracy. If a client can afford to be late even with his or her e-mail answer or to be not punctual being late at the meetings, or if he or she says «let’s chat at 12 p.m. Friday» and doesn’t show up – it’s a very bad sign. The other thing is a client’s accuracy with payments. Delays happen, but if this or that professional partner delays a payment with no excuse it doesn’t suggest anything good. The other thing is how picky they are on contracts. A good sign would be, if a partner takes 3 or 4 days to go through a potential contract before singing it. A bad sign is signing it in 5 minutes, because that would mean to me that it wasn’t read at all, and if it wasn’t read there’s a very good chance the client doesn’t have an intention to follow the obligations. The same is about the budget, because a perfect partner says: «I have this sum of money for this. Can you do it? ». If I say yes, it’s my responsibility to make it happen for exactly the discussed amount of money or cheaper, and never ask for a single penny more. Even, and that happened before, if I have to take the money from my pocket. So if your potential client says: «I have this sum of money for this», that shows, he or she is a professional vs. if he or she tells you «I have lots of money, I just need this» – it shows a different thing. The more accurate a partner is with money, even talking about it, the more responsible person to deal with he or she appears to me. But there’s also something we call intuition, which is not a talent you are not born with it. It’s the result of a long term experience of dealing with people. Sometimes I can say about somebody: «this person is nervous» and you would ask me why. My answer would be: «I don’t know, I just feel it». My eyes see little signs my conscious doesn’t mention, like micro mimics, which I don’t even have time to think of. My brain gives me the answer before I even think about the question. That’s what I call intuition. It’s much more difficult now when we socialize via online services like e-mail and social networks. E-mails allow people to hide unprofessionalism. On the other hand, there’s a scientific research that shows that people lie 80% less when writing or texting each other. One Russian theatrical director once gave me a very good piece of advice. He said: «There’s a very good way to determine, whether a politician lies to you from the TV screen. Just switch off the sound and watch adequate his body movements are».


When you work with people, do you really feel that you have to be positive and don’t let your negative experience spoil your trust?

The bad experience just keeps me away from making new mistakes. It actually helps, because I can understand a person is worthless professional-wise, before we get to the stage, when his or her incompetence could damage me or can hurt him. I just realize in two minutes: «He’s a decent guy, but I’m not doing business with him». Or “this guy is worthy to talk to longer”. With some people you talk for 5 minutes and you get the feeling you know the man forever. It’s all about feelings. I’m not secured from making mistakes, though. But my previous negative experience makes my every next step a bit better-minded.

There’s a lot of state-owned television in Russia. Do you have any kind of pressure?

I have some very good friends at Channel One but we just don’t have any cross-points. I don’t do anything connected with politics or politicians. I know that exists and everything they say about the freedom of speech oppression is true. But most of my projects are broadcast products.